Homeless children: breaking the cycle

When conjuring up visions of homelessness, kids aren’t in the forefront of most people’s minds.  But the reality is that families with children are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population.  In fact, we at the Coalition help over 220 kids each night, along with their families.  Offering programs geared to this vulnerable population, therefore, is very important and we wanted to share ours with you.

Our child development services recognize the unique struggles faced by children experiencing homelessness. Through a full-time child advocate and network of partner providers in the community, our staff works to address the most critical issues facing our youngest clients, such as self-esteem, behavioral problems, social skills, and stigmas about homelessness. The goal is to help children improve their emotional health and help them, their siblings and their parents develop more stable, nurturing family environments.  The support includes individual and family counseling, developmental services, therapeutic children’s activities, weekly peer group counseling sessions, and parenting workshops.

Returning to that vision of homelessness, a daycare isn’t usually something we picture.  Our Early Childhood Development Center, however, accommodates up to 21 youngsters between the ages of six weeks and four-years-old each day while their parents work, look for work, or attend school.   Serving as a preschool, the daycare offers a structured learning environment where play is encouraged and built into the lessons.  As the kids learn their alphabet, colors and shapes, occupations, and holidays, etc., they thrive in this highly-sensory setting.  We’ve seen it!

Joining Florida’s school readiness efforts to ensure each youngster is adequately prepared for kindergarten, we also operate a Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten (VPK) program for four-year-old residents.  Certified and monitored by the state Office of Early Learning, our VPK provides individual attention through small class sizes and quality education, with an early literacy focus.

A heartwarming program that has already revealed some budding Ansel Adams’ and Pablo Picasso’s, Art By Coalition Children (ABCs) is a volunteer-driven endeavor which focuses on providing a creative outlet to our youngest and most impressionable clients. ABCs brings in professional artists from the community to teach a different art class every 6-8 weeks. Class topics include painting, photography, videography and creative writing, among others.  The classes offer our kids the opportunity to express themselves in an encouraging environment and to redirect their energy and emotions.

As a bonus, the young artists display their masterpieces around the community. In fact, ABCs artwork is currently on display at the Orange County Administration Building until February 12, 2011.

If you would like to teach your artistic medium, or host an ABCs art display, we’d love to hear from you!  Please contact marty.vevera@cflhomeless.org.

A wonderful Coalition partner, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida has dedicated their Downtown Branch to providing a positive and educational outlet to children of families served by the Coalition. Located on the Coalition’s main campus since 1993, the free after-school and summer programs allow parents to rest assured their school-aged youngsters are safe while they focus on fulfilling their plan to regain self-sufficiency.  Kids attending the Club enjoy tutoring and homework assistance, field trips, and social interaction with their peers at “The Positive Place for Kids.”

Admittedly, we’re proud of our programs to help break the cycle of homelessness.  Want to learn more?  Why not RSVP and come on a tour!